2023 Smart #1 first look and drive – Mercedes-Benz design outside, but inside…

Announced since early 2022, the 2023 Smart #1 is among the most anticipated EVs coming to Malaysia this year (you could probably guess which EV was the most anticipated). It will be officially launched in Malaysia in the fourth quarter of the year, and we’ve taken a closer look at the car and even test drove it. And here’s what yours truly thinks about it.

Before we go on, let’s put the basic information of the Smart #1 out first. Globally, it is available in 4 variants – Pro+, Premium, Pulse, and Brabus. Smart Malaysia has allowed us to test out the Premium and Brabus variants and these two variants are what would most likely be launched in Malaysia first. Smart Malaysia might also bring in the Pro+ variant but nothing is confirmed yet for the time being. With that, let’s carry on…

2023 Smart #1 exterior: Clear Mercedes-Benz influence, but with an identity of its own

One look at the Smart #1 is all it takes to somewhat fall in love with it. It has an androgynous styling which suits the taste of many. The curves of the Smart #1, which the brand credits to its “Sensual Product” theme, give the car a warm and adorable vibe – Sort of achieving something like what the New MINI did back when Frank Stephenson was put in charge of reviving it.

Some may say that its continuous LED lights are generic and are just in tune with current design trends, but really, you could remove its badges, and the Smart #1 still draws a strong resemblance to the brand’s older models like the ForTwo, ForFour, and Roadster. Designed by Mercedes-Benz, it does also draw a resemblance to the Mercedes-Benz EQA without being overshadowed by it. If anything, the Smart #1 has a distinctive look of its own.

RELATED: New Smart #1 Pulse AWD variant debuts – 400km range, 0-100km/h in 4.5 secs

2023 Smart #1 interior: Quirky, with a touch of Sino-influence

Step inside and you immediately see the Mercedes-Benz resemblance of the Smart #1 – The centre console looks extremely familiar and so do the air conditioning vents. The storage compartments on the centre console have an obvious Mercedes-Benz influence, and the air conditioning vents are surrounded by ambient lighting. But that’s where the Stuttgart resemblance ends.

All else, the Smart #1 has a quirky touch of its own and immediately lets you know where it came from – China. And things like its infotainment operating system, the types of material used on the door trims, the dashboard materials, and the height of the floating screen further enforce this.

And before you call me xenophobic, no I am not saying that it is a bad thing, but it is clear where the underpinnings of the Smart #1 come from. Some cars that come from this region have shown to provide decent cabin insulation and decent build quality and so does the Smart #1, although it is not a blanket statement. And just like how cars can feel German, American, or Japanese, Chinese cars have a taste of their own too.

RELATED: Smart #1 undergoes 20,000km test ahead of Malaysia launch

Despite the Mercedes-Benz-like centre console, the infotainment operating system adopts a different influence – It is simply quirky. And it shouldn’t surprise you, especially if you’ve seen past products from the brand. There’s a fox in the infotainment screen and it emotes in response to the voice command system.

The animations of the fox don’t quite sync so well with whatever the voice command is doing and it just feels like it is emoting randomly. It is something like “Clippy” from Microsoft who has somewhat retired from being our personal assistant. The quirkiness of the infotainment screen can also be seen with the “globe” at the home screen and just the overall UI/UX design.

RELATED: 5 new Smart dealerships appointed across Peninsular Malaysia, East Malaysia expansion in 2024

There are several clever things in the Smart #1 that are worth mentioning. For instance, the armrest glovebox gets air conditioning for you to keep your drinks cool and the second-row seats can slide forwards and backwards to either give you maximum legroom or maximum boot space. It also comes with a large, fixed panoramic glass-roof which reminds us of the Volvo C40. Fortunately for the Smart #1, this fixed glass-roof comes with an electric sunshade.

If there are any complaints to be made on the Smart #1’s interior, it is perhaps concerning the controls which are mostly done through the touchscreen head unit. And this is coming from a person who prefers physical buttons to keep his eyes on the road.

RELATED: Volvo C40 Recharge: Is the fixed sunroof suitable for Malaysian weather?

Official photo of the camouflaged Smart #1 Brabus. We have not been allowed to photograph the Brabus variant just yet

2023 Smart #1 driving experience – The Brabus sounds like it has an Italian V6… paired with a CVT

We were given a chance to drive the Smart #1 in a closed course and we started with the Smart #1 Premium. It is a rear-wheel drive EV which makes 272 hp and 343 Nm. If you’ve driven a few EVs, driving a standard single-motor EV no longer gives you that surprising “EV jolt”.

And from our very short drive with the Smart #1 Premium, we could say that it strikes a decent balance between a firm and a comfortable ride. The seats weren’t too soft and you don’t feel too disengaged from the road. Its small size makes it easy to drive and the driving position is decent with good visibility. If there’s anything to complain about, it would be the wind noise at high speeds and we were told that this was due to the frameless window design of the Smart #1.

RELATED: Smart #3 could enter Malaysian market, fastback EV debuts at Auto Shanghai 2023

The Smart #1 Brabus spotted testing on public roads in Malaysia

Next was the Brabus Smart #1 which is a dual-motor AWD EV that makes 428 hp and 584 Nm. It does the century sprint in 3.9 seconds, but doing so on a wide isolated track made it feel not so intimidating. It will perhaps be much more exciting when we get to test it in real-world conditions.

The suspension is firmer in the Brabus variant and the car holds itself pretty well during high-speed corners. It does come with a fake “Italian V6” sound, which sounds a bit humorous since the “engine” sounds like it is connected with a CVT (No simulated gears like the Hyundai Ioniq 5 N). So you get an “Italian V6” with that typical CVT droning sound. With its small size and quite significant power, we imagine the Brabus #1 will be quite a hoot to drive in real-world conditions. We sure do look forward to that.

That’s all we can share for now after the very brief session with the Smart #1. Some technical specifications of the Smart #1 Premium and Brabus are shown in the table below.

Smart #1 PremiumSmart #1 Brabus
Max. Power (hp)272428
Max. Torque (Nm)343584
Drive layoutRWDAWD
0-100 km/h (s)6.73.9
Top Speed (km/h)180180
Battery capacity (kWh)6666
WLTP Range (km)440400
Max. AC charging rate (kW)2222
Max. DC charging rate (kW)150150
22kW AC charging time; 10%-80%<3 hours<3 hours
150kW DC charging time; 10%-80%<30 mins<30 mins

Smart Malaysia has yet to announce the official variants of the Smart #1 and their respective prices for the Malaysian market. We will most likely be getting two variants with a possible third one as well. It is a decent EV with decent looks, but the Smart #1’s performance in the Malaysian market will be heavily affected by its price. What do you think is a fair price for the Smart #1?



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